Independent and state schools must link better for pupils

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Independent and state education sectors in the UK must collaborate better to prepare the younger generation for “severe post-Brexit uncertainty”, principals will be told later.

Chris King, chairman of the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), will call for a “cessation of hostilities” against independent schools as he opens the HMC’s annual conference.

Emphasising its role in promoting UK excellence across the world, Mr King will urge that the sector is treated as a “valuable and necessary asset” to the economy.

The HMC is a professional association of heads of the world’s leading independent schools.

Mr King, the head of Leicester Grammar School, who is taking up the HMC chairmanship for an unprecedented second time, will call for a new unity of purpose across the educational landscape as the UK prepared to the leave the EU.

He will suggest the sector does not get the credit it deserves.

“It is endlessly ironic that UK independent education, one of the most valued and enduring global brands, should be so sneered at in its country of origin,” Mr King will tell the conference, which this year is being held in Belfast.

He will add: “It is urgent for state and independent schools to work together to put pupils, not politics at the heart of education policy.

“A more collaborative, less aggressive approach is urgently needed.

“The time for state versus independent education is gone, to be replaced perhaps by state education with renewed independence of spirit and independent education with a renewed sense of responsibility to society.

“I am hoping that over the coming years education will experience a new period of unity, with independent and state school colleagues working ever more closely together to solve some of the most serious problems facing schools today.”

Mr King will claim that independent schools save the UK taxpayer more than £3.6 billion a year by educating pupils without state funding, while also contributing a total of £11.7 billion and 275,000 jobs to the economy.

“Young people are, as we know, facing both global and national upheaval,” he will state.

“At home, public funding is severely constrained; the EU referendum and general election uncovered considerable inter-generational tensions; Britain is trying to reshape its identity outside the EU and the emerging generation is required to make life choices far removed from those of their parents.

“Across the world, political tensions are building and further waves of technology, not least artificial intelligence, seem set to disturb established patterns of occupation and livelihood.

“What better time, therefore, to put our efforts in to collaborative working across schools?

“To help young people cope, we need to move on from sterile arguments about types of school and league tables to a much more important conversation about how to teach and how to learn in the 21st century.”

He will add: “But what is clear is there is now a choice.

“Down one road lies co-operation, economic and educational stability and long-term benefit to state schools. Down the other lies a set of hidden consequences and government own goals.

“Parents need to know that politicians and school leaders will work together to help their children reach their potential.”

Mr King will also express concern at the prospect of Scottish independent schools losing rates relief and the Labour Party suggestion of putting VAT on private school fees in England.

“Any attempts to undermine our sector can only harm the Exchequer and thereby have a detrimental effect on already cash-strapped state schools,” he will say.

He will add: “This is not therefore the time to descend into dogma and division. Instead let’s allow the needs of pupils, not politics, to drive educational reform.

“So today I am asking for a cessation of hostilities against independent schools, so we can all stop wasting time on needless battles and instead work together to improve standards and raise aspiration.”